THE SECOND WEEK OF THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES: STRUCTURE AND DYNAMICS
Jean-Marc Laporte, S.J.
Overall structure of the 2nd Week:
The thread that runs through the second week is contemplation of Jesus as presented
in the Gospels, beginning with his incarnation, his birth, his hidden life, then traversing hispublic life from his baptism all the way to his entry into Jerusalem. The order is chronological,but once we move to the public life, that chronology is somewhat looser because of theabundant materials offered by Ignatius from which the directee and the director are to make achoice.
The purpose of these contemplations is to bring directees to the point where, under
God’s grace, they are each able to make a significant choice (election) that affects his/her life.
The choice that Ignatius has in mind above all is the choice of one’s state of life. (Cf. # 135.) But it could be other choices less significant than that (#170, 189). For example, if some one isalready in a stable state of life, the choice could be of a way to live that state in greaterconformity to God’s will and to the example of Christ.
Ignatius helps the directee move through the gospel contemplations towards a good
election through prayer experiences which he inserts in the progression of the second week.
They serve as a diagnostic tool and an invitation to greater openness to whatever God mighthave in mind. These experiences deal with the two standards and the three classes of persons,and are found between the contemplations of the hidden life and of the public life. They aredesigned to help unmask (2 standards) and overcome (3 classes) the obstacles, often hidden,which can too easily lead an directee to make an election leading him/her away from what Godwants, even if he/she is fundamentally oriented to God.
In # 135 Ignatius sees the contemplations of the hidden life as a way to present two
a life of perfection in the world, in obedience to the commandments,symbolized by Jesus living in submission to his parents
a life of evangelical perfection, symbolized by Jesus obeying his heavenly Fatherby being among the doctors in the temple.
The contemplations on the public life that follow are designed to help the directee make agood choice between these two options. However, these options are operative only for certaindirectees. Some have already made these choices. Thus more broadly the earlier hidden lifecontemplations are oriented to one’s way of being, and the later public life ones to one’s formof ministry. In his hidden life Jesus simply learned what he needed to know in order to carry onan adult task of teaching and preaching effectively and to make mature decisions. But once thetime came, he was ready to move into his public life and to enter into the ministry which theFather entrusted to him.
Gospel contemplation in the second week: its foundation and its role:
The foundation for our conviction that Jesus is present to us in Ignatian contemplation
of Gospel scenes is the resurrection.
In the resurrection the earthly body of Christ is transformed to a new realm where it is totallypermeated by the Spirit. Our bodies in this life, like Jesus’ during his earthly career, areradically limited in their ability to communicate: we can only have personal relations with thosewithin our space and our time. This is not Jesus’ limitation after his resurrection: he cancommunicate what he wishes, to whoever he wishes, when he wishes, how he wishes, withoutlimitations of time or space. He appeared in different guises (Mk 16:12); the gardener, thepilgrim on the way, the bystander on the sea shore, and the moment of recognition was whenand how Jesus determined it: his voice, a gesture, etc. He could have decided to beimmediately recognizable by those whom he met after his resurrection, but the manner of hisappearance was determined by how he wished to impact the person to whom he wasappearing.
Today: Jesus continues to communicate, maybe not in the same intense way as with hisdisciples prior to the ascension, but still the signs of his presence are abundant for those whohave eyes to see and ears to hear. He often communicates through other people, when werecognize him in them (each one of us is a member of his body), but the type of presencewhich we are focusing on today is his presence in our prayer on the Gospel scenes.1 It is notjust an effort on our part to use our imagination to achieve vividness: whether he comes acrossvividly or not in our prayer, he is alive and active in us through that prayer.
In making himself known to his disciples during the period immediately following theresurrection, Jesus often taught them the deeper meaning of what they had experienced withhim during his earthly life, e.g the disciples of Emmaus, the dialogue with Peter with the threequestions. He is ready to do the same for us in our prayer, though he will determine when andhow and to what extent. His pedagogy trumps our plans.
So Gospel contemplation is not just an activity which we carry out with our own
resources and our own power. Of course, we dispose ourselves as best we can, but disposeourselves to be not better agents of our prayer but rather better recipients of any grace ofcommunication he has in store for us: insight, compassion, warmness of heart, resolve to act,or any other grace, perceived or hidden. Moreover when we ask for a grace, we are asking notjust for clarity, a favour, a virtue, a resolution, etc. but we are asking for the presence of thegiver of the grace as well as for the grace itself. In other words we are asking for the Risen Jesus
1While that is our focus here, we must remember that the risen Lord can manifest
himself to our directees whenever he wishes. It is important to ask directees to be on the alertfor signs of his presence outside of prayer times: often enough those moments are the reallytransforming ones.
to manifest himself to us, and for us to recognize him in his manifestation.
The medium of this form of manifestation is the Gospel, in which we know He desires to
be present. It is not a question of reading the gospel text, analysing it as an object, and drawingsome light which comes from our reflection.2 We enter into the chosen Gospel scene to see,hear, touch, smell, to take on the interiority of one or other of the persons in the scene, orperhaps of an additional character of our own devising. In this way we are opening up ourpsyche, making ourselves vulnerable to the spontaneous movements that take place within us.
We are called not to observe from a distance but to risk relations with the various persons inthe scene, to experience what happens to them and to us in the process. In doing this we areoffering Jesus an opening by which he can reach us and teach us.2 This is scary. We trigger off aprocess which we don’t control. We might have plotted a scenario for our contemplation, butonce Jesus has taken over, it is his scenario. We allow him to do what he wants, and in theprocess our desire for grace may be fulfilled way beyond our expectations.
Let us not expect powerful revelations each time we enter into prayer. Often we pray
without apparent fruit, but that prayer is part of the process by which we are molded,tempered, made ready for what Jesus wants to do in us. Many prayer periods might preparefor one significant prayer period, or some special moment of revelation outside of prayer time.
Thank God that much of the Spirit’s action in us is hidden from us: too much awareness wouldlead to too much self-analysis and perhaps inappropriate self-congratulation.
It is important that Ignatius suggested a wide range of contemplations during the
second week. Not just the contemplation of the public life which might be especially pertinentto those seeking to make a decision about their life activity, but also the hidden life. The latter is very important in our activist and workaholic era. Election is generally seen to be aboutdoing; but being always underlies doing. Only three years of public life, but thirty of hidden life,of preparation, of being shaped, molded, tempered as a human being through his experiences.
That is a lesson for all of us to learn.
The term spiritual freedom was popularized by John English, but when all is said and done hewas making available to us an understanding of freedom rooted in the Christian tradition whichwas integral to Ignatius’ exercises.
To explain what spiritual freedom is we will contrast it with the notion of freedom that
2This more rational analysis may be part of how we begin our prayer, depending on our
own temperament, but we must always be ready to move beyond that.
2Even offering Jesus an opening is not something we do on our own: it results from the
grace of God. In classical terms, grace is prevenient (coming before any action of our own.)
is common in our culture. The distinction between these two notions is found in traditionalwritings, for example those of Augustine, and expressed subtly. I will use the terms freedom offulfilment for spiritual freedom, and freedom of autonomy for the freedom that our cultureknows and advocates. Both are gifts of God, the former unconditionally and the latterconditionally. God creates us for freedom of fulfilment (Augustine: “you have created ourhearts restless until they rest in Thee”), but the exercise of our freedom of autonomy (sayingyes when we could have said no) is required for us to come to our freedom of fulfilment.
Freedom of autonomy is the basis on which we can as a gift receive freedom of fulfilment. Letus examine the differences between these two forms of freedom:
FREEDOM OF FULFILMENT
FREEDOM OF AUTONOMY
or SPIRITUAL FREEDOM
fulfillment in God and the graces
endowment received with our
: we are fulfilled when we can say a final,
YES or NO
: for us to be able to say a yes to
total, irrevocable yes to God. We can never
God that comes from the heart, that is not
which means that we can also say no. This is
choices to which we remain faithful and that
the fragility of our present human condition.
Augustine: libertas arbitrii
(freedom of the
Augustine: liberum arbitrium
will, that freedom being a gift of grace)
which apart from the gift of grace isenslaved)
In matters of importance, this freedom by
more important decisions
that mark the
itself will lead us astray; it functions more
course of our lives and shape our ongoing
easily in the more trivial decisions
This freedom is the ultimate goal
This freedom is an indispensable means
journey, realized partially in this life, and
This freedom is permeated by God’s grace
Grace may be present or absent
only transformed by that grace can I find the
freedom of fulfilment, without it I say no toGod.
This freedom is always genuine
, in accord
This freedom can be an illusion
: our 21st
century glories in freedom of autonomy, but
fulfilment in God: The glory of God is human
beings fully alive, and the life of humanbeings is the vision of God
This freedom leads to stability
in one’s basic
Without grace, this freedom is restless
choices in this life and absolute security and
infidelity and broken relations are rife.
Freedom of fulfilment means the freedom to effectively move towards and reach the onlyfulfilment that will satisfy us, which is God. Its opposite is enslavement to sin and the attemptto find God in what is not God, making ends of what are means. Freedom of autonomy – whichis prized in our individualistic 21st century – is the power to say yes or no, and it enables us tomake choices, to vote for this political party or that, to go here rather than there for a holiday,to wear one’s pink rather than blue pyjamas, and so on. But this autonomy is limited, and isgenerally ineffective except for trivial choices.
The more we move into the area in which we make basic choices which define our
destiny, the more freedom of fulfilment looms large. Indeed there is no freedom of fulfilmentwithout the grace of God at work. Our fulfilment is not on our own terms but on God’s, andultimately unless we allow God to work in us, we will not receive that fulfilment.
What Ignatius and the Exercises are about is freedom of fulfilment, or spiritual freedom.
At the very outset, in #1 and #21, Ignatius tells us that the Exercises are to help us makedecisions without inordinate attachments. In the Principle and Foundation (#23) he elaborates:we are to use all the helps (means) God puts in our way without mistaking them for God, usingthem only to the extent that (tantum quantum
) they put us on the path to our true fulfilment.
This means indifference, readiness to accept whatever God has in store for us, since that is theonly way that we will find our ultimate freedom. This also means being aware of ourattachments and letting go of them.
3Two examples of this illusion. Advertising media and those who trumpet western
democracy try to create the illusion that we are free. Of course the last thing advertising wantsto do is appeal to our genuine freedom: it seeks to by-pass freedom to manipulate our psyche,so that we will automatically choose brand X over brand Y. And it spawns addictions which maygenerate stable revenues for large corporations but wreak havoc in the lives of human beings.
And so often this freedom is ineffective. What value is freedom of autonomy if we havenothing of significance to be autonomous about: do most refugees have any real freedom tochoose a different country? Do the unemployed have any real freedom to choose job X ratherthan job Y? Everything conspires to lull us into a false sense of security that all is well with ourworld.
The glossary on the Orientations web-site defines spiritual freedom this way:
The term developed and made popular by John English, S.J. In its meaning, it includeswhat is meant by indifference, detachment and Poverty of Spirit. Spiritual Freedomexists in those moments when a person is grasped so completely by the love of ChristJesus that the desires of one's heart and the actions, affects, thoughts, and decisionsthat flow from these desires are oriented toward God. In those moments, one desiresto return love for love through one's service and praise made manifest in cooperatingwith God's desires for our planet and its people. Ignatius' first description ofConsolation in notation  is itself a good working definition of Spiritual Freedom.
The contemplative method of prayer mentioned by Ignatius in his 2nd week, in which
the directee is moved towards the proper use of his freedom in election, is especially wellattuned to our freedom of fulfilment. Herbert Fingarette in Self in Transformation
explores asimilar insight to that of Ignatius. He says it beautifully, but in secular terms4:
In trivial choices.we have the closest nearest approximation to a single, momentary"act of will". Go left or go right; sell or buy; move the lever up or down.Either what wechoose in these matters does not matter or it is effectively governed by pre-existingrules, goals, techniques.However, if we turn to our own important privatedeliberations, and certainly if we turn to the crucial deliberations which take place inpsychotherapy, we see that responsible choice by no means consists simply in decisively"taking the initiative" at some crucial instant. On the contrary, significant choiceinvolves the "free" production of thoughts, feelings, fantasies, memories; it involves thewillingness to contemplate these, to "savor" them, to explore them, to give them scopeto operate, if only within limits and in tentative fashion.Finally serious choices, thechoices which make one a new person in a new world, involve that sometimes sudden,sometimes gradual, but always involuntary, fusion of the whole into a meaningfulpattern which then "takes over." "Now I see how I must act." "Now I understand what Imust do." We discover, when deliberation is successful, that "this is it." (HerbertFingarette, Self in Transformation
Note the language of the above text, which in some ways is very Ignatian (savour, contemplate,serious choices, sudden or gradual emergence of a pattern of inevitability). Fingarette is talkingabout serious choices which affect the fabric of our lives, rather than trivial choices, and he tells
4The disciples wanted to stop those outside their group who were casting out demons.
Jesus had absolutely no problem with this: “anyone who is not against you is for you”(Lk 9:49-50). This can be applied to persons who do not know Christ, but as best they can seek to bringothers to authenticity and freedom. In contemporary terms, would Jesus have condemned theDalai Lama if his more fundamentalist disciples were denouncing him as an impostor and afalse prophet? Whatever is good and wholesome in what these non-Christians do and teach letus welcome and gently transpose to the higher truth of Christ.
us that we need to create the space within ourselves where the “fusion of the whole into ameaningful pattern” can take place. As a psychotherapist, he sees that fusion in non Christianterms. For us who are engaged in the Exercises, that fusion is the work of the Spirit within us.
And once it takes place, Fingarette recognizes a certain inevitability to our choice to act in acertain way, akin to what happens when we choose on the basis of a consolation withoutprevious cause.
The Second Week provides a context for the process which Fingarette describes in secular termsto take place in religious terms. The gospel contemplations provide narratives and events aboutJesus with which we engage on a personal level; they evoke in us feelings, movements of spiritthat we can test out; they get us unstuck and offer new possibilities for our lives, opening up thepath to genuinely life-giving and creative choices. The more creative directees are in theirprayer, spontaneous, willing to explore possibilities on the basis of Gospel texts, the greateropportunities they offer the Lord for his action in their hearts.
The Ignatian Insertions
To guide us in this process of gospel contemplation, and to lead it to life-giving election in accordwith God’s will, Ignatius prescribes three prayer experiences, two of them as we move from thecontemplation of the hidden to the public life, and one of them towards the end of the secondweek as move towards its conclusion.
The first two help us as we begin the process towards election to become aware of
obstacles and pitfalls that might affect our progression towards the right election and toovercome them.
4.1.1 The meditation on the two standards is designed to help us receive the grace of insight asto the disordered patterns of attachment, some of them subtle, that could spoil our election.
4.1.2 The meditation on the three classes of men invites us to receive the grace of riddingourselves of whatever attachments we have discovered in the two standards meditation.
As we move towards the end of the process of the second week, the meditation on the
three kinds of humility is designed to help us test our disposition and to stimulate us to anattitude of total commitment to Jesus, out of love, as we make our election.
The Two Standards
In this meditation Ignatius presents the two dynamics, the dynamic of grace, or of spiritualfreedom, which leads to a final yes to God (eternal life), and the dynamic of sin which leads to afinal no to God (eternal death). He invites us to situate ourselves within those two dynamics.
What forces of sin and of grace are at play in our own lives? Already as a result of the first weekprocess the directee in the second week should have moved beyond gross and obvioustemptations towards disorder and sin. But there is a subtle way in which inordinate and
compulsive attachments, even attachments to values and endowments of a spiritual nature fromGod, can little by little undermine our good will and lead us down the slippery path towards finalrefusal of God’s grace, or, at the very least cause much confusion and delay in how we and ourdirectees progress towards God and in our ministry. The grace of this meditation is to unmaskwhatever inordinate attachments may still be lurking in us. We may not be notably attached tomaterial goods or pleasures, but the insidious danger is that we might be unduly attached tosome of the strengths of character and spiritual gifts with which the Lord has endowed us, andwe start acting compulsively out of those strengths. Often our main character defects and ourgreatest endowments and gifts are intimately connected.5 They are the two sides of the samecoin.
The basic issue is whether in fear and insecurity we and our directees clench our fingers aroundthe good things that God gives us, material or spiritual, protecting them, making use of themaccording to our own will, our own designs, governed by our own fear of losing them. In otherwords do we want our talents and gifts to fructify or do we want to bury them in the ground,because we are not ready to take the risk of letting go and letting God?
In this meditation Ignatius presents the two dynamics of sin and of grace. That of sin is
imaged by the camp of Lucifer, the deadly enemy of our human nature, and that of grace byChrist, our supreme leader and lord and his camp. What Ignatius is presenting to us in deeplyscriptural. To make the point to the people of his century he uses images from his ownupbringing, which is military. We are free to transpose these images. Here are the two dynamics:
5The Enneagram comes from outside the Christian tradition, but it can be transposed as
a powerful aid to our receiving the grace of light on the subtle disorders which act on us, oftenwithout our knowing them.
THE DYNAMIC OF SIN
THE DYNAMIC OF GRACE
Making of God’s gifts our own possessions
Letting go of them that they might bear fruit
that we cling to (attachment); or else trying
(the attitude of kenosis
: Phil 2:6-7): Jesus’s
obedience counteracts Adam’s disobedience;
than receive them as gift. In the story, what
his forgoing his prerogatives as God’s equal
Adam wanted to grab for himself God wanted
Adam’s grasping and protective attitude.
hands that clutch God’s gifts, making of them
hands that are relaxed in simply holding the
riches that we seek to protect at all costs
absorbing their violence through patienceand suffering, like Jesus
juridical relations; force, imposition, which
personal relations; invitation, persuasion,
which win hearts, have a long-term impact
true freedom is circumvented: manipulation,
our true freedom is enabled and affirmed:
the wages of sin are death, final separation
the fruit of grace is eternal life, final union
6It appears that Ignatius chooses Lucifer because in the Adam story he is the source of
the temptation, and comes across as insidious, crafty, indeed diabolical, whereas Adam’s sincomes across as one of weakness and ignorance and immaturity.
7This theme does not occur explicitly in the Adam story, but very soon after it emerges
in the story of Cain and Abel. The best modern exponent of this dynamic of violence and non-violence is René Girard.
The two dynamics , of sin and of grace, function in the same way, but with diametrically
DYNAMIC OF SIN
DYNAMIC OF GRACE
terms of our culture: we arecounter-cultural and pay theprice.
The dynamic of sin may begin with an apparently innocent hanging on to the gifts which God hasgiven me, using them in a disordered and anxious way, but unchecked, that dynamic will disrupt my relationship with others, and ultimately my relationship with God. The underlying insecurityleads me to crave the recognition of others, and ultimately I am in the situation of wanting tocontrol God and my salvation through what I have been able to accomplish on my own, a far cryfrom the humble and contrite heart the Lord wants of us. During this life, the dynamic of sin isalways lurking and seeking to get a beach-head within our psyche so that it can expand and takeover. The grace of this meditation is to unmask and counteract that dynamic. It has probably has
8Humility is a word that we might find odd at this point. The origins of the word is the
, which means ground or earth, and in English fertile earth with good nutrients. Humility in this Ignatian sense means being grounded in reality. The Blessed Virgin was aparagon of humility, but this did not prevent her from praying the Magnificat in which sheacknowledged the good things the Lord did for her. We are not talking about feigneddeference, humility with a hook, but humility based on truth.
not overcome us, but still exercises some power within our life and our behaviour and is aconstant threat and temptation.
The three classes of persons
This meditation follows upon that of the 2 standards and is designed to consolidate the lightsand graces that have come through the 2 standards. It builds on the first of the three stages ofthe dynamic of grace, having to do with riches and poverty.
It asks us to imagine a large sum of money, ten thousand ducats, and how three classes ofpeople go about ridding themselves of the attachment to that sum of money. The 10,000 ducatsstands for any riches which we may have identified in the 2 standards as applying to us. In otherwords, this meditation is designed to prepare us for the grace to wholeheartedly remove anyobstacle or attachment we have discovered, whether material or spiritual, thus to truly discernand do God’s will in our election.
In the first class of persons we find velleity (“I would like to” but when the rubber hits the
road, “I don’t want to”) rather than will (“I want to and will take the necessary means”). Thesepersons would like to get rid of the attachment to the 10000 ducats in order to assure theirsalvation, but when the hour of death comes, they have not done anything. In this phase of themeditation directees are invited to discern whether their attitude towards what encumbersthem is velleity rather than will.
The second class of persons do have a will to get rid of the attachment, but while they
may be free of attachment to the money, they really want to keep the money itself. There is adisorder and a conflict in their will: they want to be rid of the attachment in their own wayrather than in God’s way, because God may lead them to get rid of the money. In this phase ofthe meditation the directee is invited to reflect on conflicts, latent or obvious, within his/her willthat may affect his readiness to do God’s will.
The third class of persons want to get rid of the attachment and are willing to rid
themselves of it as God inspires them to do, and they know that this might mean actuallyrelinquishing the money (or conversely God’s will may be that they keep it.). The basic pointhere for Ignatius is not whether or not they get to keep the money but whether they areattached or not attached to it. In other words he wants us to do God’s will in the matter, whichmay or may not entail getting rid of the money. This attitude is reflected in the subsequentprayer for actual poverty, which has an all important proviso: provided it be for the service andpraise of the Divine Goodness. In sum:
: thinking that
: hiding the
the riches: a conflicted
The three modes of humility:
This is a litmus test consideration suggested by Ignatius as directees are moving towards the endof their contemplations on the public life. It helps them (and us) become aware of ourdispositions and move closer to total readiness to do God’s will in our choice(s). This time thethrust is more positive: moving from a more reasoned approach about getting rid ofimpediments to a whole-hearted response based on a passionate commitment to God throughJesus. The issue is not simply a rational willingness to accept whatever God wants for me(attitude of the third class of persons) but also a desire to surrender to God because of what Godin Christ has done for me. His emptying out of self to save me makes me in return want to emptymyself out for others.
The term ‘humility” is taken from the two standards: humility as opposed to pride, the seedbedof all the other virtues.
: very basic. Obeying the law inasmuch as it binds us under pain of mortal sin. In other
words, at this stage we would never do anything that would bring about our separation, our
turning away from God. That relationship to God is for us the be all and the end all. To be in this
disposition is to have received the grace without which we could not move from the first to the
second week of the Exercises.
: this is the humility that is given to us as a grace after doing the 2 standards and the
3 classes of men. It corresponds to the disposition of the third of the three classes. We really
want to open ourselves to whatever God wants, honour or dishonour, long life rather than short
life (already in the Principle and Foundation), knowing that his will is ultimately for our good.
This is a higher level of humility which for Ignatius supposes that I would never consent to
: here Ignatius introduces us to a step beyond the 2 standards and the 3 classes. We
move to the folly of the cross, to a passionate love which impels us to throw aside all
reservations and cautions and totally follow Christ. Where the praise and glory of the Divine
Majesty are equally served, we prefer poverty to riches, insults to honours, to be a fool for Christ
rather than a wise and prudent person in the eyes of fellow humans. We have an eager
readiness to do whatever God wants: this is indifference in the Ignatian sense (not in the
nonchalant sense of ”whatever” used as an exclamation by many today.
Ignatius does not presume that a directee will actually desire this kind of humility, and thereforewould allow an election to be made if he/she has reached the disposition of the third class ofpersons and the second degree of humility. Notice again the proviso in his text: provided equalor greater praise be given to the Divine Majesty. The basic issue is never poverty rather thanriches, etc., it is doing or not doing the will of God. If we don’t have the desire for the 3rd kind,we can at least have the desire of the desire. In the latter case there are in us the seeds ofopenness to a grace which God might want to impart to each one of us gradually, readying useach step of the way for further transformation of our hearts.
Jean-Marc Laporte S.J.
October 24, 2009
9An interesting question to explore is whether in our present context one can achieve a
high measure of the grace of the second kind of humility without that a firm commitmentnever to commit a venial sin.
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